It’s a truism that in order to expand an organization, you need money. Though this cliche likely began in the for-profit, business world, it’s doubly important where it concerns the nonprofit charity sphere. After all, unlike businesses, charities don’t have streams of revenue that they can rely on to consistently cover operating costs, keep the lights on, and stay afloat (so to speak). Instead, they must raise the funds themselves.

Towards that end, one of the most important skills an aspiring social entrepreneur can learn is fundraising. Thankfully, the digital age has introduced a host of new, innovative technologies that have flattened the world, and at the same time, made fundraising a much simpler, more streamlined process.

Here are two key considerations that can help you successfully raise funds for charity in our increasingly interconnected, online world.

Which demographic should I target?


To figure out who to ask, look at the numbers.

Thankfully, one advantage of technology is that it often generates reams upon reams of data, which can then be disaggregated (or broken down) by various categories: demographics, medium, amount, and so forth. Qgiv, an online fundraising platform, conducted a comprehensive survey, collecting a wide range of figures on charitable donations, and drawing a number of interesting conclusions.

First, the good news: the vast majority (69%) of Americans give charitably, supporting about 4.5 charities on average. More importantly, most donations are made by individuals (72%), and despite what corporations and foundations would have you believe, they account for only about 20% of total charitable giving in the United States–so think twice before you buy into their philanthropic mission statement. All the same, this is valuable information to have: rather than wasting time approaching foundations and corporations, you should instead focus your efforts on individuals.

To maximize the return of your time and energy, let’s go a bit deeper and determine your target demographic. Specifically, Qgiv mentions that three of four young adults are willing to fundraise on the behalf of charities; additionally, Millennials (the generation born between 1982 and 2004) donate, on average, $481 each year.

However, there’s a caveat: while Millennials give freely, they prefer to focus on several categories of nonprofit: animal welfare, youth development (the largest category for Millennials), and health. Older folks, such as Generation Xers, Baby Boomers, and Matures have different tastes, preferring, by far, to donate to houses of worship. This trend isn’t all that surprising, given the pronounced religious differences between generations, just one of the many signs that religion is on the decline in the United States.

Towards that end, it’s important to play towards your strengths. A religious organization may want to target older individuals, emphasizing methods and channels (such as direct-mail flyers or in-person fundraisers over digital means) to net the maximum return. A web-based group dedicated to building schools in underserved nations, on the other hand, may want to seek out Millennials.

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of each channel

If there’s one defining characteristic of the digital age, it’s variety. From email to social media to crowdfunding, trying to choose several channels from the mass of choices can be a bit daunting. Your best bet then, is to do a deep dive: understand the numbers and stats, yes, but also figure out what method would best fit your limited time and resources.

As an example, it may not be the best use of money and effort for a small, rural church to open a Twitter account and an email campaign, especially if the surrounding area sees a significant net migration of the young. Given that the young less likely to donate to religious institutions, this rural church might be better off focusing on billboards, direct mail, fundraising events like dances or barbecues, and other avenues that are more appealing to their core demographic: the older and more religious.

Of the many means of fundraising, email is, by far, the channel with the highest return on investment. According to Salsa Labs, a company that produces management systems for nonprofits, email marketing nets a staggering $40 for every $1 spent. More importantly, engagement wasn’t only measured with dollars; for every 1,000 email subscribers on their mailing list, nonprofits could count on almost 200 Facebook fans and 110 Twitter followers–an impressive rate of 11-20%.

That’s not to say that effective email marketing campaigns are easy to pull off. The average user gets around 147 emails a day, and deletes 71 of them, a rate of nearly 48%. Many more are likely sitting, unread, piled up in your electronic mailbox. Clearly, to get the most out of email, it’s important to follow key best practices, some of which are transferrable from the private sector.

Whatever channel you choose (and whichever demographic you wish to target), it’s important to remember that no two organizations should take the same approach. Even if there are surface-level similarities in means, methods, and customers (in a manner of speaking), a truly successful approach has to take your group’s unique circumstances, strengths, and message into account. To do anything else is just wasting time, energy, and worst of all, money.